This was the first interview with Director Frank Durant, who directed the Lady of the Dunes documentary that premiered on April 1, 2022 in Dennis at the Cape Cinema and April 2 at the Provincetown Theatre. This was before the Lady of the Dunes was identified as Ruth Marie Terry. A second interview with Frank, from after the identification, can be found in a subsequent post in this blog.
This interview took place in his car as we drove Cape Cod out towards Provincetown for a special excursion we had planned to a few spots that are pertinent to the Lady of the Dunes and more. I've been writing the companion book to the documentary so we talk a lot about that. He goes deeper into the story of the Lady of the Dunes, what made him want to do the documentary some of the highlights and some of the difficulties that he faced, and a little more about who he is. The full audio can be found in Episode 62 of the In My Footsteps Podcast at the bottom of the page.
Christopher Setterlund: All right, so we are actually on the road, driving to Provincetown in the fog kind of drizzly. I'm here with Frank so we're going to do this interview on the drive. For those that might not be familiar with the lady of the dunes Can you kind of give them a crash course in the case?
Frank Durant: In a nutshell, the Lady of the Dunes is a name given to the unknown murder victim that happened in July of 1974, a woman was found dead and mutilated with her hands cut off and teeth removed to hide her identity. So now going 47 years later, she is the longest unsolved murder mystery in Massachusetts history.
CS: So how did you first get interested in doing the documentary about the lady of the dunes?
FD: Good question. A couple years back, I produced the documentary entitled Finding Thoreau’s Cape Cod, and we interviewed many people, local historians, fans of Thoreau people who have hiked the trail when he made his pilgrimage back here in the 1800s. Half the people all brought to my attention. Hey, you should do a documentary on the lady of the dunes. So going back to 2018-2019 I didn't know what a Lady of the Dunes was. So time went on, I met a lot of interesting people, a lot of people from the Provincetown community. And eventually, it led to saying, let's do this documentary, let's really see if we can do either an investigation type or really just bring some things to light that have never seen people know about AI. Initially, I wanted to do something on Chief Jimmy Meads, who was the chief of police and who ran the initial investigation back in the 1970s and 80s. But the more people I talked to, and more information fell into our lap. We knew we had to do a feature-length and see what we can bring to light about this investigation.
CS: So you mentioned the thorough documentary and obviously I'm familiar with it from working with you but on that subject of your previous work kind of tell the listeners a little about yourself and your background in media and film whatever you feel you want to share.
FD: Yeah, it's funny we're going through the (Orleans) rotary right now to go on (Route)6A East now we're going into Eastham. This is where Thoreau started his journey to the beach to the Nauset Highlands. So my background is film started over 20 years ago one of my first documentaries was on nine men’s misery, which was a documentary about an event that happened during King Philip's War. And I was right out of college, I got my BA from Rhode Island State College. And it was an investigation, we were looking at original journal entries and diaries from the 1670s. And we were able to find missed writings and found new information to bring to that attention. So now 20 years later, I'm in my 40s. And having to do this for something that only happened less than 50 years ago, I feel more confident and also realizing that I'm able to bring more things to light. So it's not impossible, I think, you know, finding new information, looking at the investigation differently, talking to people who are actually primary sources, people who are in their 80s and even in the early 90s, who were able to come and give their two cents to the story. But my background in film, I hate to say it I hate to admit it I worked in infomercials for many years. So I'm able to do things that are very short budget but the goal of infomercials is call to action. You want the viewer to make an action you want them to call now. Look at the website you want them to react. So when making a documentary feature film you want to entertain, but the power to educate, to power to inform. That's the goal. The goal of this documentary is I want everybody to get up from their seat and start questioning why. And demand results demanded answered demand a conclusion. And in my opinion, this case is very solvable and should be solved in my opinion by the end of 2022.
CS: Going back to the actual Lady of the dunes documentary and the process, what were some of the highlights for you some of the best parts of creating this documentary?
FD: I wouldn't, I wouldn't say highlights but almost breakthroughs and we made a lot of phone calls, we would Google try to find people to see if they were still alive. First of all, because a lot of people have unfortunately passed on. But I looked at not just the research on the Lady of the Dunes, but I also need to research a lot of other topics that happened in this community and happened in Providence town. When I spoke to Peter Manso, he pretty much demanded ‘you got to read my book.’ So I read that book. And I talked to some people and they say, ‘Well, have you read In his garden?’ (Written by Leo Damore about infamous Cape Cod serial killer Tony Costa) No. Well, you have to read that book. And I had the pleasure of meeting Liza Rodman and she wrote the book, The Babysitter, and she goes, ‘Did you read my book?’ I said, No. Well, you’ve got to read my book. So within a span of one year, I was told you have to read these three books. Otherwise, you have no business, thinking you're going to tell the story without knowing other stories. And you know, it's funny, once again, we're driving now through Eastham, and we're about the past the grave of Sidney Monzon. And she was one of the victims of Tony caster. So I Googled everybody with last name Monzon in the telephone book, and I found one name of a gentleman 85 years old, living in Brookline, Massachusetts. So I figured, I'll call. And I called, and on the eighth ring, an old man picked up, and I went through my sales pitch of ‘Hi, my name is Frank, I'm a filmmaker and producing a documentary, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah.’ And then after 30 seconds, I said, ‘Are you any relation to Sydney Monzon?’ It was a good 20 seconds of silence, I thought I'd lost the call, he had hung up. And then I hear this voice crying on the phone. ‘Yes, she was my sister.’ And so that's history alive. You're talking to somebody who is connected to this documentary, you know, you go out and you want to make a movie, you want to tell a documentary, you got to be very careful because it's your interpretation of history. And you're trying to bring things to light. And you're not a hero to everybody. A lot of people in this community. And I will say this, because it's true, a lot of people have moved on, they do not want to talk about the story. They don't care if the case is solved. It's in the past, we don't want to bring up the 60s, we definitely don't want to bring up the early 70s. Because this story is more than just about a dead girl in the dunes, we need to talk about what was happening in Cape Cod, we need to talk about the players. And I'm not against these people who just want to say ‘No, we're done. I don't have an opinion, leave me alone.’ You have to respect that. But at the same time, there are a lot more people now in this community. And I'm saying not just the Provincetown community, the Cape Cod community who said It's been half a century. And this girl's name has not been discovered yet, let alone her murderer, or why she was murdered. Because of that reason, that motivated me in more ways to say I gotta make this movie, I got to do it right. And when I was speaking to Sydney's brother, he even said, ‘You're the first person outside our family to mention her name in years.’ They had a funeral few years back, and her name was brought up at the funeral. And I told them what I was doing. And I don't want to say funny, but I had read the book In His Garden. And there was a story written by the author(Leo Damore) that during Tony Costas, mom's funeral, Tony was there with about 15 police officers to protect Tony, because there was a rumor that he was gonna get assassinated, somebody was going to shoot him. And I thought, interesting, I don't know if that was just made up or whatnot. But when I was talking to Sydney's brother, he told me out of a mid-sentence when he was talking about something, oh, he said, ‘I was going to kill him, you know,’ I go, ‘Really?’, he goes, ‘Yeah, I was, I was a trained sniper rifle in the military, and I was going to kill him, I was gonna park across the street, and shoot him from like, 400 yards away.’ I ended the conversation about that, because I didn't want to say, well, I read that. And you just confirmed that rumor was true. But it also makes it real. His sister was taken from him. And he wanted to take an eye for an eye. And to say, well, this story now is in the past, it happened 50 years ago, it still affects people, not just because it's a local story, it affects people because it truly affected them. So as a filmmaker, as a storyteller, as an artist, your art your work can offend people and hurt people. So you got to be very careful when you walk that line of what are you trying to do? And most especially, you need to keep asking yourself, in my opinion, as a filmmaker, are you exploiting this case? Are you exploiting the girl in the story? Because if you are, that's when you got to turn the camera off and walk away. So every minute of this investigation from a year ago, I kept reminding myself if you are exploiting this, wrap it up. And that was never the intention and never the goal and the final product that we produced is not exploitation. We truly feel what we did was good not only for her story and the case, but for the people of Ptown.
CS: See, you're kind of leading into what my next question was, what were the difficulties that you face? I know there were some people who either would just hang up on you when you ask them questions or just didn't want to talk. So were those the major difficulties or were there more when it came to trying to put this film together?
FD: It's a blessing and also a curse when you give your phone number out to the public. And I had a lot of people call and hang up a lot of calls in the middle of night calls, it would just tick off the family because usually you want to hang up the phone at a certain time. But at 9pm on a Thursday, someone would call and I would step away from my wife and child to answer that call. I gave my name and number out to a handful of people that I trusted, and a lot of these people were very influential. They led me to other people who have said no to an interview for over 40 years, I had the true privilege of being supported by Jimmy Meads’ family. Speaking to Jimmy Jr., Michael, Nancy Meads, without them this project would not have happened. And I got to speak to a lot of people who were involved in multiple cases who are still with us, the assistant district attorney who worked on the Tony Costa case, I got to speak with him. Tom Gunnery, I got to have a conversation with him. A lot of people, law enforcement, federal agents with the FBI, people who worked on the Bolger case, people had worked with the Hadden Clark case. More and more calls I received reminded me that the importance of this film. At the same time I had people calling me about you need to look into UFO abductions. She was a UFO victim, I had someone telling me that it was an alien abduction, or that the lay the dunes was part lizard. That's why they cut off her hands. So people who are into demonology the occult, I can't explain it. I'm a layman when it comes to this, but I've had a whole list of interesting people. I don't want to say wasting my time but calling me with stories of conspiracy theory after conspiracy theory. And that's the negative part as opposed to all these other people who were able and willing and wanting to give their two cents but also lead me down a path of a lot of interesting information that led to a lot of interesting discoveries.
CS: What are your goals as far as the film goes, gets getting its premiere? April 1st Cape Cinema in Dennis. April 2nd Provincetown Theater? What are your goals? I guess I want to say what were your goals at the beginning? And now have they changed with the film getting ready to come out?
FD: The power of journalists, I'm not I don't have that honor of saying I am a journalist, I have a degree I don't. But at the same time, the power of journalists the power of doing a news story, the power of writing a book, having a radio, a podcast broadcast, the power of film, can change the way people think how people live, it inspires, but also pushes the envelope. So at the very least one of the goals of this project was to push that envelope and help solve the case. Initially, the arrogance of being an artist. ‘Oh, yeah, we'll solve this case, we'll find something that they dropped that law enforcement didn't do.’ And for the longest time, I searched for the conspiracy theory, because who doesn't love a good conspiracy theory? Okay, even people who don't believe in them will sit down and watch a good conspiracy theory movie. I tried. I could not find it. And the goal was to try to find one, but if it did a more the merrier. But we tried to find it and it does not exist. And unfortunately a lot of people are sad about that. But that's the fact. But arrogantly, yeah, I thought moving in. I'll also this case, I'll have someone give me a Jack Nicholson, A Few Good Men and admit, yeah, I did it. Because a lot of people are hoping for that deathbed confession, my opinion truly feels it could still happen. But at the same time, that's a lot of hope of hoping that would happen when in reality, that's not. So as time went on, we were finding a lot of primary information, people willing to talk, we find a lot of new interesting facts to help with the case. But at the very least we did push that envelope. And I truly feel I'll say to for a second time. I truly feel there will be a major discovery before the end of this year in 2022. Well, I'm hoping for that too, because people that have listened to the podcast know that I'm working on the companion book for it, and the book is still going so I just keep hoping that something gets revealed.
CS: Being that I'm working on the book, I had to ask this question. What were your initial opinions when you first met me because when we were first supposed to meet up it was going to be at a Dunkin Donuts during the height of COVID and they weren't letting people inside. So you were you were actually coming down the highway and I called it was like, Hey, can we meet at this parking lot next door to it, which is definitely creepy but what did you think when I called you and kind of changed locations?
FD: Oh, at that time I was working with three people for this documentary and research I had to give them the names of Agent X, Agent Y, and Agent Z. When I met you I thought to myself oh god I do not want to call Chris Agent W because no one wants to be known as Agent W. So luckily, I call Chris, Chris. That's his name. And Agent Z was called Z because I was like, we're not gonna have any more agents under a pseudonym. But you know, I had to label these people because to protect their current positions, they couldn't have any involvement with this project for legal reasons. But after meeting Agent Z, it doesn't get weirder than that. And this person was like, alright, you know, I met some very interesting people on this trail. And I made the effort not to hang up on a lot of these people, because you don't want to make any enemies with weirdos. But you were far from that even though you were different, Chris, and we're meeting under very weird circumstances, it was not the oddest thing that had happened in the last 52 weeks of this production. But now the book just to educate the audience, when we wrapped on April the 11th 2021, we had 52 hours of footage, not including podcast and video interviews. So I have four cameramen shooting for those three days, we had to have the first goal of taking 52 hours and getting that down to a 90-minute feature. But on top of that, this book includes so much more information that we just had no place to put it in the movie without making this a three-hour, eight-part miniseries. So the book is yes, a companion piece, but they get the whole story of information. This documentary doesn't do justice about the book.
CS: That's what I love about it is the fact that things are still happening. From the time that we went out into the woods to try to find Hadden Clark's journal, which I'm not going to give too much of that stuff away. But yet things are still going on. From writing this book. I can tell it's different from things you've done in the past just talking with you. How is this Lady of the Dunes project different from everything else you've worked on?
FD: And once again, another interesting coincidence, we're driving now, almost through the woods of Truro and the last big documentary on Henry David Thoreau I got to experience the hidden Wellfleet there are beautiful parts of Truro and Wellfleet that most people, even though they visit and drive down Route 6 a thousand times, are not really getting the full experience of the back roads and the people who live out there year-round. So for the Lady of the Dunes, it's more than what you see by watching a YouTube video on Lady of the Dunes or listening to a podcast because unfortunately, a lot of what you're getting is a xerox copy of Wikipedia. And what we found out halfway through the investigation is a lot of, quote-unquote facts from this public case file that are fabricated. So right off the bat that eliminates hundreds of these videos, YouTube channels, podcasts articles written about Lady of the Dunes, because it's based on false information. So one of the things that this documentary will pride itself on is we brought multiple facts to the people's attention, which people did not know about this case, since it occurred.
CS: For the people that are going to be able to go to the premieres is there something that the people should know, like, get ready for this scene. It's great.
FD: Well, one thing I'll mention is that the closing credits is five minutes long. There's a beautiful song that I wanted to make sure the entire song gets played. But there were a lot of people who either made a donation or supported me or brought something to light that I had to give them the credit of including their name. So for people who truly want to sit through the closing credits, it's five minutes, but it's worth it because you'll see every group organization, nonprofit, intern, volunteer investor, investigator who made this project happen to me personally, it's worth it to me because it reminds me all the people who supported the telling of the story. It's kind of a hard documentary to watch, because I've watched it so many times to look at every little second to make sure it's the story I want to tell. But there's a lot of information where people will keep questioning themselves by saying what you're gonna get an official statement from James ‘Whitey’ Bulger, which a lot of people don't know about this. He did answer the question he was asked by law enforcement for his court trial up in Boston, he was confronted and asked, Did he have any involvement? Did you are you involved with the murder of the Lady of the Dunes? So this is an official statement that he gave. So if you want to know what he said, It's included, but also receiving eight letters from serial killer Hadden Clark, we asked him a lot of questions, including what was her name, and Hadden Clark gives us a name. And also we interviewed four very talented well known psychic mediums. And they also gave information which mirrored the real case file that the public doesn't know about. So every 15 minutes, people are going to say to themselves, what? what?, and it's a good question to ask because it's gonna be followed by another question. Okay, why isn't this case solved yet? What is going on? What can we do to push the envelope because of this independent filmmaker can do this with a shoestring budget. There are no excuses. So the question of ‘what’ and the question of ‘why’ should be asked by everybody who sees this documentary.
CS: I definitely agree. I have some scenes in my head that I can't wait to see because writing the book, it's like living through the movie. So I've got some in my mind. (The premiere is)April 1st, Cape Cinema, at 12:30, right?
FD: Get there at 12 o'clock. I hate to say this, but in a way it's a good feeling to know that one of the screenings is almost completely sold out. Provincetown Theater is a gem of the community. I'm so grateful for the staff at Provincetown Theater, please make a donation if you're coming to see the movies. But right now I believe there are only three seats available as of right now. So at two weeks out, it looks like it's gonna be completely sold show. But if you can make it to the Friday matinee at 12 o'clock on April 1st at Cape Cinema, probably one of the most beautiful cinemas, in my opinion in the country. I've seen a lot of film. To me, that's my cinema paradise. So if you don't like the documentary just look up at the ceiling. It's a beautiful building, with fantastic seats. So Cape Cinema, there's still a lot of seats available for that Friday screening. So if you can make it, I'd love to see you there.
CS: And for the people that can't make it to the screening, where are they going to be able to see this film afterward?
FD: I have right now three interested distributors, where I know I won't make any money. And the goal was never to make a buck off this. So my goal is to get this into every library in the country. So these distributors do focus on the education side, they will sell cheap copies to public access to the library areas that do education for schools. So my goal is if you have a DVD player or Blu-Ray, one of the few distributors who has shown great interest in taking this documentary and giving it to the masses. Well, hopefully, there will be availability. So you can watch this in the privacy of your own home.
CS: Nice and obviously here on the podcast. I will keep everyone updated. So then you can reach out to me if you're interested in checking it out after. As we kind of wrap things up. Now. We're getting into Truro heading into Provincetown, it's drizzly, it's foggy when it comes to, oh, man there's Lombard Hollow Road. Jeez, That's so creepy. I'll explain that. More later.
FD: A lot of coincidences. And I think we're on a good path. Because if you want to know the significance of Lombard Harlow Road, you got to read the book. So when it comes to not just the premiere, Chris's book, I think every book he's written has done something for Cape Cod and the people of Cape Cod, but you gotta get a copy of this book. So when the book comes out, hopefully next year, you want to know why Lombard Hollow Road is very significant to a lot of history in Cape Cod. You gotta buy a copy of Chris's book and you got to read to find out.
CS: Is there anything else you want to add kind of to wrap things up about either the film or anything that went along with it or anything just to kind of a chance for you to say what you want to say. I mean, I know you've done a bunch of interviews, and they've been cut and spliced. On this podcast, I mean, we're going to be free-flowing pretty much so anything else that you might want to add?
FD: One thing that everybody associates later the dunes with is the story made up by Joe Hill, that she was an extra in the movie Jaws during the summer of her murder, Steven Spielberg, who was making Jaws down in Martha's Vineyard, and Joe Hill, who's the son of Stephen King, he bought was watching the movie one night and he stopped it when he saw a woman that look very familiar to him as the victim of known as the lady of the dunes. So I researched this I contacted historians in Martha's Vineyard, I talked to a lot of law enforcement I talked to talk to a lot of people. And I was told this by two different people in law enforcement that the story is not true. It's not true, literally the day after it went live. So this got on a lot of morning talk shows and a lot of newspapers. It's if you Google Lady the Dunes on YouTube, a lot of the top videos will associate her as the potential background extra. The day after this went live. This family from Martha's Vineyard saw this woman said, Hey, that looks like grandma. And sure enough, she's a member of a prominent family Martha's Vineyard. And she pretty much I'd say out of Monty Python, she said, ‘I'm not dead yet.’ And the authorities have known this since day one. But unfortunately, millions of people have viewed this falsehood that she was an extra even though it has been basically confirmed by law enforcement people investigation. That was not true. However, what Joe Hill did was very significant. He kept the story fresh in people's minds. So in a way, what Joe Hill did was wrong, but what he did was completely right, because he now has influenced millions of people who have gone on the internet or done research and he's helped kept her story alive. So for that, I'm grateful. But at the same time, my goal is to educate people that there's no connection between the movie Jaws and this woman known as the Lady of the Dunes.
CS: Honestly, working on the book, it’s literally from Frank's perspective what he has been through. So unbelievable, growing up on Cape Cod, the documentary I can't wait to see the book. It's been a pleasure to write because I learned a whole lot of stuff about the place where I grew up.
FD: Eventually, every time we got a new lead, we wanted it to be true. Why would it be this person because that way, it's like, we want to give her a name, we want to solve it. So for every fan or anybody who supports people like the missing children's group, Missing Exploited women, just all these independent sleuths, the goal is to solve a case. So I admire that their goal is to bring closure and to bring justice. So of course, we all want it to be her because in the scene in Jaws, this extra she turns and faces the camera. And it's almost like you want her to say please find me please, please say my name, please, please wrap this up. Because outside of her murder, this is also identity theft, this woman's identity, her story, her life was taken away from her in more ways than one. And it's really sad because you asked yourself, no one discovered her body for days later. And the sad fact is people disappeared now, in 2022 people go missing every day. And it's really sad to say, Okay, this happened back in the 70s. But at the same time, her story is happening to many people today. And that's the reminder of law enforcement. They're trying to solve millions of cases. So it's unfair to say, Hey, listen, we're trying to solve a case from 1974. But we're also trying to solve cases that happen within our lifetime. And I will defend law enforcement, because the fact is, they have been actively working on this case, along with many others, as early as December 2021. The case of Lady of the Dunes has been researched and investigated by not just federal and state police, but local police as well. So a lot of people want to point the finger of blame. That is not the goal of this documentary, I support anybody who's truly trying to solve this case, and I will defend them right or wrong, because they're doing their job, they've been trained to do their job. And for that reason, I want people to know that this is not in any way an attack against any individual or any party. The goal of this documentary is to educate, to inform, and to also push the envelope because I truly feel with our technology in forensic DNA. We're solving missing persons cases, left and right, go on and Google, Fox, CNN, and MSNBC will always report that another cold case has been solved by using forensic DNA technology. And just recently, in the last year, the technology available is solving cases from 100 years ago, they just recently solve cases from World War One by using a strand of hair to contract DNA to confirm a victim's identity for the first time. So 1974 is not ancient history, it is very possible with what we currently have available to solve this case now.
CS: And everyone out there, I mean, you've heard me talk about it on the podcast on the live streams. There's a lot of stuff that you see this documentary that's going to blow your mind. And then in the book where I can think of things that I can't wait for people to see or to read. It blew my mind, and I've grown up here. So you definitely, if you can't make it to the screenings, keep listening to the podcast, I will let you know what's going to be coming up.
FD: It's funny, we wrapped almost a year ago, but I'm still getting phone calls. And we're still adding to the book every day. So even by the end of today, it's gonna be another chapter in Chris's story because it never ends, there are still more pieces of the puzzle. And like I said, this project could not have been made without the support from the Meads family. Without them, there would have been no conclusion of this film. So out of respect for Chief James Meads. Today we're heading to St. Peter's cemetery, we will visit the grave of the Lady of the Dunes. But out of respect, I also will pass the grave of Chief Jimmy Meads and once again, call him Chief out of respect, and thank him for his family support. So I will forever be grateful for that.
CS: So that's gonna wrap it up here. Thanks, everyone, for tuning in. We are about to step out of the car here. We're almost in Provincetown in the fog. Hopefully, the rain holds off, but it's going to be a fun day. Interesting day, just like the last 10 months have been for me, knowing Frank working on the book that he the book is literally him like, this is easy for me because Frank did all the hard work. I'm just chronicling what he did.
FD: The story is more than about a dead girl in the dunes. And the more and more you scratch the surface, you find that it's a story of Provincetown. It's the story of the 70s. It's a story about really what was happening in that time period. So it's more to come. I'll see you at the premiere. And please, when Chris's book comes out, buy a copy. It's a fantastic story. So thank you again.
CS: Thank you so much, Frank, for giving us some of your time. I appreciate it, the listeners appreciate it. And here we go to start the day off.